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University of Michigan Medical School

Let's say a researcher designs a product that could save someone's life. Without money and backing from the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation, that invention probably won't go anywhere.

Medical innovators at the University of Michigan now have a better chance of getting their products to market with a $7.5 million joint venture with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

It's called the Michigan Translational Research & Commercialization for Life Sciences, and it's meant to help bridge what's known as "The Valley of Death."

"We call it that because you can have a great idea with some interesting entrepreneurial worth, but there's absolutely no funding stream for it," says Dr. Steve Kunkel, Senior Associate Dean of Research at U-M's Medical School. "So what happens is that research eventually dies because there's no mechanism to support it financially."

"So this provides funding for those people to take those ideas and basically drive it into a product that could be launched into the private sector."

Kunkel says there's no shortage of ideas, including pediatric devices -- like heart stents for children.

"It's not been as well developed, and has lingered," Kunkel says.

"It goes the whole gamut. There's been a fair amount of work for the Department of Defense for battlefield injuries, and finding ways to infuse blood or fluids rapidly into individuals."

Kunkel says the innovations include items for neonatal to geriatric needs.

So who decides what's a good prospect for investment? It's done by committee.

"It's a three-part investment by the chairs of the medical school; then they'll put up one-third," Kunkel explains. "The medical school will put up the other third, and the Michigan Department of Economic Development does the last third."